The Book of Hard Truths contains multiple links to recommended books and talks that will help you explore the truths further. If you have a version that doesn’t allow hyperlinks, please use the links below.
- The Art of Happiness in a Troubled World, by Dalai Lama
- Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change, by Pema Chodron
- Peace is Every Step, by Thich Nhat Hanh
- First Things First, by Stephen R. Covey
- 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen Covey
- I Wonder, by Annaka Harris
- The Wise Heart, by Jack Kornfield
- The Gifts of Imperfection, by Brené Brown
- Getting Through to People, by Jesse S. Nirenberg
- Man’s Search for Meaning, by Victor Frankl
- Daring Greatly, by Brené Brown
(Originally published on Quora on March 16th, 2012)
I used to think that “What is the meaning of life?” is a misguided question, because it assumed the existence of a creator with an intention or a plan, which I never thought was warranted.
But I’ve come to realize that there’s a different way to think of meaning. I think when we ask “what is the meaning of life?” most of us really mean “How should I interpret life in the grand scheme of things? And what value should I assign it?” I think those are very good questions.As a confirmed Atheist, I nevertheless spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about life, its meaning, and how this meaning should guide us in our everyday lives. It’s almost a personal obsession of mine.
What follows is my best attempt at a universal “meaning”:
You are an intelligent being, and intelligent life is the latest, most awe inspiring stage in universal evolution. Its birth was the moment in which the universe has evolved the sufficient complexity to be able to perceive, direct, and re-imagine itself, and this process is only beginning – through you.
From the first micro-second of its existence, the universe has been a vast though inanimate battleground between two universal mathematical trends: order and chaos, creation and destruction, syntropy and entropy.
Your life, and human life in general, represent the universe’s single best hope in the battle against randomness, entropy, and chaos; the single best reason to believe that creative forces, order, and harmony will prevail.
The way to fulfill this promise is to think and act like an intelligent being. To find a use for that marvelous brain of yours in the service of progress. To create things that are good and useful. To empower others to do the same. And to be happy, truly happy, because that’s the only way to make sure that you are not a force of entropy after all.
(Originally published on Quora on June 28th, 2012)
I’m very new to Buddhist ideas, and have only read a couple of books, so take this as a layman’s description of what I found valuable in certain Buddhist texts.
I can’t tell yet if those are universal to all Buddhist traditions or if they only represent some traditions or teachers, or maybe just the books I’ve been reading. All I can say is that I found these ideas extremely beneficial:
- Dependent Origination –
Everything we see and experience around us, including ourselves, is not a singularity but an aggregation of elements, causes and conditions.
- Impermanence –
Everything that is subject to birth, is subject to death. Or in other words: the very fundamental causes and conditions that brought something into existence are the ones that will enable it in time to go out of existence.
- All Suffering Comes from Clinging –
All suffering comes from an attempt to battle the basic impermanence of experience and force it into a rigid permanence, which is impossible. We must not cling to specific outcomes, but do our best and allow change to unfold as it will.
- Three Personality Types –
Three broad personality types encapsulate our relationship to this impermanent world. The Grasping Personality is always reaching for something better than is possible at the moment. The Aversive Personality tends to see flaws and reject present experience. The Deluded Personality tends to be confused and indecisive.
- Small Self vs. Big Self –
Self can be identified as the “Small Self” which includes your particular personality traits, knowledge, desires, and everyday interests, or the “Big Self” which is that pure consciousness that can observe the particular emotions, interests, and experiences of the small self without identifying with them or repressing them.
- Everything is Empty of Self –
When looking at any particular object, precept, or experience, we find that it is not our self. Therefore, we should not identify too strongly with any particular object, precept, or experience. Just like everything around us, we are an aggregate, not a singularity.
- Self as a Process, Not a Thing –
Self is a process, not a thing. It changes and evolves. It includes elements at one time that it may not include at another time. It is not finished, and not static.
- Everyone Has a “Buddha Nature” –
The road to being a better, enlightened person is open to everyone. Everyone has the tools to become enlightened. One just need the right intention, focus, and effort.
- Compassion as Selfish, Not Selfless –
Unlike the West, that sees compassion as an altruistic, self-sacrificing act, Buddhists seem to think compassion starts with compassion for the self. If one has no compassion for themselves, they will not have compassion for others. If one approaches it from the right perspective, concern for the happiness of others promotes rather than prevents ones own happiness.
- The Power of Empathy –
Empathy for others as a great tool for self-fulfillment, and as a great way to overcome fear and resentment. Being able to see events from another person’s perspective is a liberating experience that allows you to deal with others better, and also to liberate yourself from your own, often narrow perspective on events.
- The Importance of Generosity –
Giving without expecting a return is seen basically an exercise in non-clinging. Unlike in the West, where the act of giving often gains value in direct relation to how painful it is, the stress in Buddhism seems to be on the giving being genuine, based on true friendliness, and never more than one can happily give. As such it’s seen as a tool for happiness, a way to train your mind to be generous, rather than as a form of self-sacrifice.
- Countering Emotions with Their Opposite –
Emotions tend not to co-exist with their utter opposite. In Buddhism this fact is often used as a tool for growth, because it means you can counter anger with gratitude, counter fear with love, etc.
- The Power of Concentration –
The act of calming and concentrating your mind helps provide greater insight when one observes complex internal states, such as complex emotions. Training your mind in concentration can have cascading effects throughout one’s life, can increase your power to notice and react to things appropriately in real time.
- Mind Cultivation and Training –
The idea that you can cultivate good personal qualities through simple practice, in the exact same way that you train your body to increase its fitness. This idea in itself seems rather obvious these days, but Buddhists through the centuries have actually developed these cognitive and behavioral training techniques, and many of them are quite brilliant!
- Change from the Inside-Out –
Buddhists seem to believe that changing behavior is not enough. That right intention and right understanding precedes right speech and action. Mindfulness training seems to put the stress of fully understanding your own thought patterns and habits without trying to force better behavior. Better behavior follows insight organically.
These are the main points I can see right now. Would love to hear about major points I have surely missed!